Schein 9: Picking apart NFC contenders
Can anyone figure out the NFC?
Or the AFC wild-card race?
We had out our weekly Scheiners,
SCHEIN 9 style…
1. Foaming at the Mouth
The previously undefeated Saints now have one loss, losing to
Dallas as the Cowboys shed the label they can’t win in December
with a thunderous victory in New Orleans. Minnesota got embarrassed
in every phase against someone named Matt Moore and the
underachieving Panthers. The Eagles are super hot.
I need a Ph.D. in something that doesn’t exist to examine
the Cards, who clinched the NFC West. Green Bay’s quarterback was
outstanding but got no help from the defense or special teams in a
regular-season classic — albeit a loss — in
Pittsburgh. The Giants are on the outside looking in but announced
they won’t go away quietly by pasting the pathetic Redskins in a
And this is the beauty of the NFC in 2009. You have seven
teams fighting for the playoffs. You can make the case for and
against every team currently in the playoff picture making a run to
the Super Bowl.
13-1 New Orleans
The Case For: The Saints are the class of the
conference with the best quarterback in the NFC. New Orleans will
clinch the No. 1 seed when it demolishes the Bucs this weekend on
FOX. It’s so tough to outscore the Saints with Drew Brees and his
plethora of weapons. The running attack is strong. The defense is
blitz intensive and clutch in the secondary. New Orleans has played
in a lot of close games and big spots this year, and the remarkable
13-1 record speaks to the confidence level and clutch play from
Sean Payton’s squad. And it’s going to be very tough to beat the
Saints in New Orleans.
The Case Against: The Cowboys shoved New Orleans
around a bit on the ground. The Saints can be vulnerable against
the run. Starting a third-string left tackle finally caught up with
them. History is never on the Saints’ side.
The Case For: The Vikes are incredibly complete.
They have a Hall of Fame quarterback, an ultra-talented running
back, a diverse group of receivers and the best defensive line in
The Case Against: Boy, Minnesota has looked awful
in two of the past three games against Arizona and Carolina. What
the heck was that on Sunday night? The pass protection was
horrendous. Adrian Peterson did nothing against Carolina and
Arizona. And Peterson has fumbled too much this year. Brett Favre
was terrible in both losses, conjuring up memories of his December
fade with the Jets last season. Brad Childress and Favre feuded on
the sideline (more on that later). While Jasper Brinkley looked the
part against Cincy last week, the club certainly missed E.J.
Henderson against Carolina.
The Case For: Philly has won five straight games
in impressive fashion. Donovan McNabb is playing excellent ball.
DeSean Jackson is the ultimate weapon going deep. Brent Celek has
emerged as a legit weapon over the middle. The Philly offensive
line has stabilized with its health and consequently its play,
mauling the opposition. And Brian Westbrook is coming back.
Philadelphia has an excellent cornerback combination and an
aggressive defense. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the
NFL. And the Eagles, with New Orleans and Minnesota dominating the
conversation, don’t have the pressure on them.
The Case Against: If Philly doesn’t get a bye,
it’s tough to win three games in the playoffs. LeSean McCoy hasn’t
run the ball in the tournament. Sean McDermott hasn’t called plays
in the playoffs. I don’t love the linebackers. And the pressure
seems to weigh on the Eagles as the games get bigger in the
The Case For: Arizona is loaded with talent in
every phase. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin make
up a dominant and prolific passing attack. The offensive line is
physical and cohesive. The defense has a ton of playmakers. Ken
Whisenhunt is a strong coach who got his team to the Super Bowl
last season against all odds. They have the big-game experience.
And they proved how physical they are against the Giants and
Vikings this season. Arizona can play at any speed and beat you in
The Case Against: What in the world happened to
the Cards against the Panthers? And the Niners? And even in the
division-clinching game this weekend against the lowly Lions?
There’s something off about this team, with this wild knack to turn
it on and off. And the running backs can’t hold onto the ball.
9-5 Green Bay
The Case For: Aaron Rodgers has been simply unreal
this season. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and the emergence of
Jermichael Finley, his weapons are abundant. Ryan Grant is solid.
The leaky offensive line has come together. Charles Woodson is a
stud cornerback. The defense is ranked second in the NFL. Mike
McCarthy knows what he is doing.
The Case Against: Mason Crosby keeps missing
kicks. The defense, as great as it has been this year, couldn’t get
off the field in Pittsburgh in a big spot. And do you really trust
that offensive line?
The Case For: The talent is incredible. The
December monkey is off their collective backs. When it is going
right, Dallas can run with two diverse backs and push the ball down
field in the passing attack with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles
Austin. DeMarcus Ware is a stud. And Keith Brooking and Mike
Jenkins have had great seasons.
The Case Against: Where do I begin? Wade Phillips?
The Cowboys’ knack for choking in recent years? Flozell Adams?
The Vikings will get bounced. Arizona (though I am tempted
to scream Super Bowl) and Green Bay (my preseason pick) will tease.
Dallas will fold.
I think we are looking at a Saints against Philly
The Saints are the safe pick.
Don’t be surprised if the Eagles, with their complete
package, make a run out of nowhere to the big game in Miami.
2. Rise and SCHEIN
The Chargers’ thrilling win against Cincy coupled with the
stunning Denver defeat to the Raiders gave San Diego another
division title and a major leg up for the coveted No. 2 seed and
bye. Norv Turner deserves a ton of credit for the nine-game winning
streak. The Chargers have never lost in December under Turner. And
Philip Rivers continues to dominate and amaze with his clutch play.
He was predictably fantastic against a great defense on the
3. Hide the women, children and Matt Millen
The Jets beat the Jets on Sunday, and the Falcons won a game.
The Jets left nine points on the field on missed field-goal
tries. There was a dropped hold, a bad snap and the kicker missed
The Jets were called for three awful personal-foul
The Jets quarterback turned it over with three ill-advised
And the big, bad Jets defense let Atlanta march down the
field on the final drive to win, a sequence that rightly drove Rex
Ryan bonkers post-game. Why switch to a zone on Tony Gonzalez when
the man coverage was working all game?
And just like against the Dolphins, Bills and Jags, the Jets
wasted golden opportunities, beat themselves and suffered an
The Jets are 7-7. The should be at least 9-5.
4. Backseat Coaching
Mike Tomlin decided to call for the onside kick after Jeff
Reed’s field goal in the fourth quarter with under four minutes to
go with Pittsburgh up two. I know Pittsburgh won, but that was
illogical. I know the defense for Pittsburgh was shaky in the game
and has been all year, but you have to play that straight up. If
Pittsburgh would’ve lost, that would’ve been an all-time
5. Schein’s Anatomy
Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck left the Titans’ win on Sunday
with a knee injury in the third quarter. On Monday, he learned he
has a torn ACL and is done for the year. Bulluck has started 127
straight games and has been the most underrated linebacker in the
game other than London Fletcher. You just don’t find the
combination of a player, leader and overall guy like Bulluck.
6. Weekly Hot Seat
Oh, no. Controversy in Minnesota. And this might surprise you,
but I totally agree with Brett Favre. Why in the world did Brad
Childress want to take him out of a 7-6 game in the third quarter?
That’s illogical! I understand the offensive line was awful,
resulting in Bryant McKinnie getting benched and Favre getting
pounded. But aren’t you trying to win?
And to make it worse and more embarrassing, Favre showed the
world he runs the team by making Childress reverse his
7. My guys
DeMarcus Ware: He sealed the incredible win
against the Saints by forcing Drew Brees to fumble. Ware was all
over the field in the upset special, a pretty heroic feat
considering the neck injury he suffered a week ago. I didn’t think
he would play in New Orleans and might even miss the rest of the
season. It was amazing to watch.
Joshua Cribbs: Two more majestic returns for the
Cleveland specialist, one for 100 yards and the other for 103. Do
you think the first thing Mike Holmgren is going to do is rightly
pay the man?
Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben hit Mike Wallace for
the game-winning touchdown with no time left in regulation. He has
such a knack for the fourth-quarter drive. It was Ben’s third
touchdown pass of the game. Roethlisberger threw for an eye-popping
Joe Flacco: To call the Ravens’ quarterback
perfect would be accurate. In a must-win game, Flacco threw four
touchdowns and zero picks while competing 21 of 29 passes.
Nate Kaeding: In a week featuring huge missed
field-goal and missed extra-point tries and a comedy of errors in
the kicking game, Kaeding calmly bombed a 52-yard game-winner for
8. My goats
Jay Cutler: I don’t want to hear about snow or
travel. Cutler didn’t even get to 100 passing yards against the
Ravens and tossed three picks, par for the course in this miserable
Jim Mora: Welcome back, Jim, for the second
straight week. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for
Seattle after the no-show against Houston, the Seahawks laid an egg
at home and got blown out by the pathetic Bucs. It was a totally
inept performance. Matt Hasselbeck threw four picks. The defense
was terrible. I don’t see how Mora keeps his job when the new brass
Todd Haley: How do you kick to Joshua Cribbs?
Elvis Dumervil: My good friend from Syracuse
University, Lou McCarthy, texted me requesting this one. And I
understand the point. Dumervil didn’t make a play against the
Raiders, epitomizing the bizarre loss to JaMarcus Russell and the
Raiders in Denver. And it should also be pointed out that
FOXSports.com contributor Peter Schrager sent me a text last
Thursday saying his Defensive Player of the Year was Dumervil. Well
Mark Sanchez: I don’t know whether he got his
colors confused on the now-famous wrist band, but the Jets
quarterback hasn’t learned you can’t throw into double
9. Three and out
- When I got back from Redskins training camp in August, I
wrote here on FOXSports.com that Mike Shanahan would coach the
Skins in 2010. And if/when that happens, Shanahan and new general
manager Bruce Allen will form an excellent team in D.C. Give
Daniel Snyder credit for finally cutting the cord with the
overmatched Vinny Cerrato. Allen is a great choice. And Shanahan
will be, too.
- Was Jim Zorn trying to get fired at the half on Monday
- Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards against Kansas City, the
third-highest total in NFL history for a game. Thanks for doing
it a week late, when I was forced to start Harrison while getting
knocked out of my fantasy league. Not to mention the differences
between Aaron Rodgers, Miles Austin and Reggie Wayne from Week 14
to Week 15. Thanks for nothing!
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